Samantha Anthony and Caroline Turner
Checking her makeup and clothes to make sure her tattoos are covered, Kate sits in a restaurant waiting for her lunch date – a man who she assumes looks nothing like his profile picture taken in the 1990s.
Kate, a student at UMKC is a sugar baby, willing to meet older men (or women) on dates for money.
According to a popular sugaring app, SeekingArrangement.com, there are 20.4 million college students in the U.S. – over one million, or 1-out-of-20 of which, seek sugar daddies from sugar-dating apps.
Websites claim physical intimacy is not required, and many sugar babies refuse to engage in physical relationships.
An education major, Kate was introduced to sugaring by her best friends. Amid changes in her love life, her roommate jokingly suggested she make a profile on SeekingArrangement.com, a site for “mutually beneficial” relationships.
She had another friend who sugared, so Kate decided to try it.
Falling about halfway down the national sugaring chart from Seeking Arrangements “Sugar Dating Heat Map”, there may be a sweet tooth for sugar babies in Missouri. Missouri falls about halfway down the national sugaring chart, according to the “Sugar Dating Heat Map ” on SeekingArrangement.com.
Why? College students. Missouri has 138 Title IV degree-granting institutions compared to the U.S. average of 90, and approximately 70 percent of those students are receiving financial aid.
“FAFSA and grants can be a nightmare–that’s if you are approved,” reads SeekingArrangements.com. “With SeekingArrangement.com’s Sugar Baby University, students from all backgrounds and income levels are welcome. No minimum GPA required. Join today and get your education paid for by a generous sponsor.”
Memerbership to “Sugar Baby Academy” is free, avoiding a dating site’s monthly fees.
A full-time student, Kate also works two jobs, working around that timeline with her sugar daddies, she usually meets them for lunches or coffee once or twice a month.
With her limited schedule, she has come across potential daddies who have harassed and insulted her on the app for not quickly responding to their messages.
Kate usually waits until the second or third meeting to tell them her real name. But she’s usually out by the fourth date; she had been warned by her friends that by then date sugar daddies’ expectations for physical attention heat up.
Initially, Kate just wanted to see how much money she could make sugaring and said she wasn’t really “into it” like her friends.
But even before the first date, Kate invests weeks of her time and energy into a potential relationship.
She has strict safety precautions: Talk for a while on the arrangement site’s app, via email or text to get a feel for the guy, then meet for lunch, always be in public, and have friends check up on her.
Kate says this can be difficult because most sugar daddies don’t like their baby to have their phone out on a date. She always kept her phone in her purse.
“It’s kind of like not being allowed to have your phone out at work,” Kate said.
The payment for the arrangement varies. Typical compensation for the first meeting can be around $200. The second date may be $300. Gifts (and free date meals) are included. Depending on the arrangement, compensation could equate to rent or car payments.
According to SeekingArrangement.com, in 2016 the average monthly allowance given was approximately $2,200.
Kate said it’s not uncommon to trade daddies if they are bored or tired with the arrangement and that sugar babies who have a romantic partner often keep their sugaring relationships a secret, explaining they might not understand sugaring as a strictly business relationship.
Yet, some sugar relationships are more “like a boyfriend,” she said.
Sugar daddies are] normal, bored businessmen,” Kate said. “Most have wives or kids.”
Kate thinks sugar daddies are drawn by an ego boost, or don’t have time for an actual relationship.
She said what is most shocking is that you think that the sugar daddies are going to be, “You know, normal men, (in their 30’s and) suave- but no. They are everyday normal people, dads with families.”
She says that all of the girls who have sugared now flatly say that they don’t trust men.
Like Kate, 19-year-old, Natalie became a sugar baby due to the rising cost of tuition.
“My roommate got me into it. She encouraged me and showed me what to do,” said Natalie.
Natalie said her sugar daddy acted as both a partner and a mentor during their relationship, which lasted about three months.
“We talked for hours on the phone about things I wouldn’t talk to anyone else about. He helped me in a lot of ways because he had knowledge about education and finances,” Natalie said.
She describes her relationship with the 38-year-old business consultant as both “serious” and “intellectual.”
Natalie said she draws the line at physical intimacy. She disagrees with the stigma that compares sugaring to prostitution, because she does not perform sexual favors for her partner(s).
“My goal is to profit as much as I can with as little contact as possible,” Natalie said.
A business student. Natalie explained there are also professional benefits to sugaring because most sugar daddies are successful.
Despite the negative connotations surrounding sugaring, Natalie said she’s not embarrassed, she feels smart for benefitting from the opportunity.
“It makes me feel powerful to look good and use that to my advantage,” Natalie said, adding that sugar babying is somewhat like playing a character. “You are supposed to be wantable –to seem fragile and needed, yet sexy. You need to maintain a feminine aura.”
Although sugaring could serve as her sole source of income, Natalie also works part time at a formal restaurant in Kansas City, where she said potential sugar daddies often dine.
Despite the advantages Natalie has had, she does not advise other young women to pursue sugaring.
“The chances of finding a good sugar daddy are rare,” she said. “You have to look in the right places.”
To protect herself, like Kate, Natalie only agrees to meet a potential sugar daddy in public.
Natalie typically looks for potential sugar daddies in places she thinks successful people will be.
“I’m trying to find someone who can help me build my savings, not just someone to have a relationship with,” Natalie said.